Newt: In the Polls, It’s Deja Vu

On winter weekends, I wear a heavy baseball jacket with a Republican theme: it has big “GOP” graphics on the front and back and an American flag and another GOP symbol on one arm. I generally forget that I am a virtual billboard unless someone comments on the jacket, which happens occasionally. A month or so ago, at the height of Newt Gingrich’s surge, I was doing some target practice at a local shooting range. When I got ready to leave and put my jacket on, the guy who was working behind the lanes spotted the jacket and said he liked it. “Who you voting for?” he asked. “Newt?” I said something to the effect that I didn’t think so; we really need to win this one.

Those days of just a few weeks ago are long gone. Republicans and other Americans, having been exposed to Newt for a while, have formed the same judgment they did a couple of decades ago, and Gingrich is more or less forgotten as a presidential contender. Today, Chris Cillizza describes Newt as “the most disliked politician in America”:

Newt Gingrich hasn’t just fallen in the GOP presidential race; he may be the most unpopular person in American politics right now.

Two new polls out this week show the former House speaker with an absolutely atrocious favorability rating.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll on Monday showed 63 percent of All Americans viewed Gingrich unfavorably, compared to just 25 percent who saw him in a positive light.

And today, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows a similar split: 54 percent view Gingrich unfavorably, compared to 16 percent who say they feel positively predisposed towards him.

Those 38-point spreads between his favorable and unfavorable ratings are a new high for Gingrich in the 2012 campaign and tie his worst numbers from 1997, when he faced ethics troubles and a GOP revolt during his time as speaker of the House. (Fun fact: now-Sen. Al Franken joked in 1996 that Gingrich’s “favorable rating is only four points higher than the Unabomber.”)

And in fact, the numbers are worse than any national political figure The Fix could find in recent years — even, arguably, George W. Bush.

Sarah Palin, even at her most divisive, never saw her unfavorable rating rise above 60 percent in the CNN poll. And even when Republicans were demonizing Nancy Pelosi in the runup to the 2010 election, her unfavorable rating never climbed beyond the high-50s. …

Gingrich appears to have put together the rare combination of turning off Democrats and independents, but also being unpopular within his own party. The new CBS/NYT poll showed just 36 percent of Republicans view him favorably, compared to 29 percent who don’t.

There is, I think, a cautionary tale here, although it probably comes too late. It was obvious to everyone who remembered the history of the 1990s that Gingrich would be a disaster as a presidential candidate, however much we may enjoy his repartee and respect him as a thinker whose ideas are often good. Yet millions of Republican activists, heedless of the past and ignoring Newt’s obvious weaknesses, enthused over him as a candidate and made him the man of the hour. Or the man of two or three weeks, maybe. The same pattern has been repeated more than once during the current, discouraging presidential nominating process. If the GOP loses this year’s presidential contest, the party will have no one to blame but its own activists.

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